Matt Robbins and Alex Jesseman believe keeping positive is the key for this year’s Ewing High School boys soccer team.
“How we meld as a team is important,” says Robbins, a senior defender. “Sometimes we have our differences and having a good positive mindset and really trusting each other could create a good outcome for the season.”
The Blue Devils started out fine last year with wins in two of their first four games. But things turned during a nine-game losing streak before they won their final two games of the season to finish 4-11. Ewing has used this preseason to start anew.
“I think there’s a much better energy around the team,” says Jesseman, a senior midfielder. “There was a time that things fell off last year after a couple losses. The whole season fell apart when guys fell off and the team fell apart.”
Sustaining a positive approach after wins and losses will be a focus. The Blue Devils have tried to set the tone early.
“It starts with practices,” Jesseman says. “You have to keep the practices lively and entertaining and play with the underclassmen, leading by example and doing stuff on and off the field as best you can with everybody.”
This year’s Ewing team figures to use players from all four classes. The senior and sophomores classes aren’t very big, but there is an abundance of juniors and freshmen. Second-year head coach Dave Waseleski will play any player with ability, regardless of class.
“We had a couple freshmen see some time at the varsity level and we had a lot of sophomores that are juniors now,” he says. “A lot of them, having seen time on varsity, it’s not new to them. Hopefully this year and next year it can translate into a lot of leadership.”
“I would say it’s a lot more encouraging seeing this turnout,” Robbins says. “There were a lot of freshmen. I think we cut 10 guys. Seeing there’s a lot of passion for soccer in Ewing is good, and these freshmen are motivated.”
Robbins says that most of new players coming in have good potential. “It’s teaching them how to be role models and how to captain a team.
It will be good for Ewing to get Robbins back in the lineup. He missed the final third of the season with a broken collarbone which forced the Blue Devils to adjust their defensive positions. In addition to the veterans Robbins and Jesseman, Ewing has a third important senior tri-captain, Kameron Clark, who starts in goal for the third straight season.
“Kam is absolutely one of our rocks,” Waseleski says. “When he is playing well, we thrive on that. He keeps us in games that we’re not necessarily supposed to be in.
Waseleski is looking forward to a second season coaching at the varsity level. He got to know the Colonial Valley Conference better and what to expect.
“The speed of the game, it’s not as forgiving,” Waseleski says. “Everybody has to be on the same page. It takes a split second for you to be out of positon and the other team to gain an advantage. You have to choose your positions carefully and your style of play and formation and how guys are moving into space.”
Ewing will bank on the abilities of its defense as it finds reliable goal-scoring. It puts some additional pressure on the defense, but Robbins is ready for the challenge.
“We don’t have that real standout on offense,” Robbins says. “It gives (opponents) more possession than we’re comfortable with, but with some training and when we find someone who will put in the work, we’ll be fine.”
Jesseman could look for his shot more in the midfield, but he’s always been a defensive-minded player and looks to create more than score at the offensive end.
“It’s definitely a playmaker role that I play,” Jesseman says. “Hopefully this year with some different strikers and different offense, maybe some of those balls I played last year will get finished and we can all work off each other a lot better.”
Jesseman will play a key role as a returning veteran who can support the attack. Ewing figures to try a number of combinations through the preseason and into the start of the regular season until they can establish some scorers and solidify their lineup.
“We lost more guys on offense that had talent,” Waseleski says. “But at the same time, the new seniors are more dedicated and focused and they want the team to succeed. Last year, we kind of had individuals and we lost track of working together.”
Jesseman hopes that is the case from the start to finish of the season for the Blue Devils. Ewing opens at West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South on Thursday, Sept. 7. Last year, Ewing had a promising 1-0 win over Notre Dame early but couldn’t sustain that level of play. That hot start now serves as a reminder for this year’s returning players.
Robbins says he could sense a change in the first week of preseason. It was more competitive for varsity spots and more players were in the mix.
The team has taken the lessons fromt he tough stretch from a year ago, and will put them to use with a new young mix of talent.
“I really think the potential is beyond what we had last year,” Jesseman says. “What these guys don’t have in talent, they make up for in energy and drive. If they really want to play and want to work hard, they’re going to help.”